Whining in the Workplace
Leaders hear whining about teammates and other leaders. Reminds me of kids in the backseat. “He touched me!”
- “Bob spoke harshly to me.”
- “Mary’s clothing is too casual.”
- “Bill Doesn’t like me.”
- “Mary plays favorites.”
You ask, “Did you say something?”
They say, “No. I couldn’t do that.”
Whining may seem small but it’s big. Whiners, who don’t own and express opinions and concerns, are organizational dead-weight. Complaints about others are the tip of the iceberg.
Whiners won’t provide independent, controversial, or contradictory options, in public. They go along but whine behind the scenes. They:
- Destroy open communication
- Drain energy.
- Undermine team culture.
- Weaken relationships.
5 Reasons whiners come to you:
- They want you to handle it for them – fear and irresponsible.
- You’re sympathetic and they want support – whiner.
- They’re undermining others – power and position.
- It’s not their place, they believe, to say anything – confused and lack of ownership.
- They don’t know what to do – unskilled.
Anonymity breeds irresponsibility.
Those who own complaints are prepared to find solutions. Those who lurk in the shadows and toss stones feel powerful when they destroy and tear down.
Responding to whining about others:
The critical moment is when you realize they don’t want to personally address their complaint. Five options:
- Explore. “What makes you feel that way? What happened?”
- Contradict. “Mary’s clothing isn’t too casual.”
- Support. “I know what you mean. Bob seems to like Sally the best.”
- Challenge. “You need to say something to your boss.”
- Solve. “I’ll speak to your boss.”
Other responses to whining about others:
- Ask, “What would you like me to do?”
- I’ll help you formulate an approach, if you don’t know what to say.
- I won’t listen to this complaint until you speak to them.
- Let’s call Mary and clear the air right now.
What impact does whining have on your organization?
What are useful responses to whining about others?
Whining undermines everything. It undermines the vision that everyone should be working toward, it undermines the teams confidence in the team leader and it undermines morale.
Those who whine the most tend to do it in “the meeting after the meeting” rather than where it can be addressed openly.
The best response, I think, is to meet it head-on, as you have suggested here. “If you really think that, why don’t WE go talk to so-and-so about it together.” This will usually be met with some other excuse, but at least you can remove yourself from having to hear about it.
Well well it appears we are pondering that ole bugaboo the human condition again!!!! Get it ? A bug guy using bug-a-boo is his an analogy?
Alright then humor helps us identify and connect so I get communication, right? Hehe
People are egocentric lost little souls
who do not understand themselves, others or their maker. In AA we call that a spiritual malady.
So humans beings , not just drunks experiencing life through that lens tends to feel discomfort!!! We drunks figure a toddie or fifty smooths that all out!!! Problem is over time the physical body can’t tolerate our liquid solution!!!
So non alcoholics got to find a way to deal with their spiritual malady so whining becomes an option. Better than drinking that will kill you over tone but kinda annoying!!!!
So what to do? Said it before and one day coiled of ya might actually get it……why I keep repeating it!!! Start with Why
Then when you both agree with where you are coming from and you both believe the same thing you both see the same problem. If you both see the same problem the solution will likely be similar too. Then cooperating to get done what needs to get done is simple.
Bottom line I can’t stay sober. In AA WE can! That is why I am 29 years and counting sober and clean. So non alkie ‘s can use the same strategy….I can’t, we can! Just not if the why’s don’t match!!!
I suggest you try that and see how splendidly it works out for ya!!!!
Struggling is an option!!!
This an excellent and well-positioned blog message about WHINERS. There is too much of this going on that ruins a church or business from the inside. It ought to be a warning also that, when you choose staff, you take a look at the person’s chemistry with other existing team members. Great job!
I love this, Dan. You hit the nail on the head- some whiners will not come to you at all while others are clogging the airwaves with their incessant complaints. Casual whiners lounge about and complain– they think you NEED them. Those who won’t speak up are sometimes harboring important information– they don’t think you NEED them. The challenge is in making both feel valued while gently handling complaints and searching for the improvement opportunity. Complaints are always an opportunity for improvement– of your culture, product, or relationships.
So Justin, you seem like a pretty straight up guy, right? Have you ever whined just for whining sake? Well guess what other folks don’t either, usually.
Was on a plane once, dude comes up with food cart and was just basically RUDE!!!!!!!! Didn’t he know who I am???? LOL
Anyway, responding instead of reacting I pulled him to the side and asked him what was up? He said he just found out his Mom had terminal cancer and he just was not handling it very well. He apologized for being rude.
Have you ever voiced a concern YOU felt was legitimate and not felt like anyone was listening?
For ME the way I frame situations goes a long way to coming to a happy solution.
Now framing without connecting WHY’s sounds like this…..You Them blah blah blah fill in the blank.
Connecting Why’s sounds like We and Us.Lets get this problem resolved and move on to the next thingy.
Don’t taze me Bro!!!!!!!!!! Just saying……
Just my experience that the language I use to describe situations says a TON about how I am framing the situation. You know that ole thingy who you are is so loud I can’t hear what you are saying.
Empathy goes a lot longer down the road to happy destiny than other approaches…in my experience.
Serve others as you want them to serve you. Just cannot go wrong there. Listen, you might find out WHY they are whining and it might be something very important to them. Listen, connect and they stop whining cause YOU CARED!
The Dude Abides!
Common emotional intelligence is uncommon.
I think the whining is simply a symptom of the reality that what people are working on is not all that important to them — it is a distraction and a petty issue saying that we have not sufficiently convinced them of the issues and responsibilities demanded nor have we build much of a team.
As Normie said (Cheers): “It’s a dog eat dog world and I’m wearing Milk Bone underware.”
If this situation is happening, you might consider fooling them into thinking that results and accomplishments might be more important to the overall workplace than issues. Try distracting them!
Diane led a workshop where she used my idea of anchoring the Mosquito into an VAK problem, and then introducing The Elephant. “It is the little stuff that is annoying but the big things that are important. What is represented by the mosquito in our workplace?” From that, the people talked about the little things and then they had a discussion about The Elephant.
The distractions can be numerous. But an overriding sense of collaboration and alignment to shared issues and opportunities might make a bit of a difference.
“If nothing is important, everything is a distraction.”
You can also choose to do “Godzilla Meets The Mosquito” and simply stomp that out of existence. My guess is that firing one complainer might change behavior… But then, you might also get some sabotage — I share some ideas on that at http://performancemanagementcompanyblog.com/2013/06/11/thoughts-on-management/
Have fun out there, too.
Your comment: “whining is simply a symptom that what people are working on is not all that important to them” struck a cord for me. The times when my department has had the most whining is when people didn’t like what they were doing (as if everything we do gets to be worlds of fun), or when there wasn’t enough work to keep everyone busy (so we’ve focused on bringing in more work & on paring down our “excess capacity” through attrition).
While these aren’t exactly the same as you stated, I think they’re in the same family of “symptoms.” Thanks.
Hey Scott, Scott here….see if this strikes a chord
Whining is a symptom of fear.
Fear breaks down in two ways.
First fear of losing something I think is vital to my survival.
Two fearful of not getting what I think is vital to my survival.
The whiner is speaking from one of these two places. Now the trick is for the whinee to have a half a brain and a heart and listen. Listening takes care of a whole lot of whining.
Might, if you broke it all down to this point, might whining be seen as a call for help in some way?
Good news is Fear is Faulty Evidence Appearing Real.
Most of what I have feared has never come about.
Kinda like the Wizard of Oz! Scary dude on the projection screen but behind the screen just an average normal dude.
Whilst I agree on the main thrust of the post, I’ll disagree on the responses. I think 3. Support and 5. Solve are both counterproductive and will perpetuate the problem. A whiner is out for strokes (recognition) and in both instances you are giving this.
You missed out an important one as a colleague – which is to IGNORE. A fire cannot survive without oxygen.
As a leader, I would recommend Explore and Challenge and would not Ignore.
We had a major problem with a major whiner in our Lion’s club. The President asked the person to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. Their response: “I’m not part of the problem.” Ah, the myopic view of the actively disengaged. Ultimately that person left, and the club is now thriving.
Some people can’t even see their glass as half empty – it is broken on the floor and they are walking barefoot through the broken shards. Bottom line is that with some of these negatively focused people, you will not change their view…. only yours.
I lead a team of 5 analysts (and always remember, you can’t spell “analyst” without “anal”), and it seems that these brilliant folks can be more prone to whining than any other group of people I’ve led in my career. One of them was almost unremittant in the amount of whining he did, starting from the day I was made a Lead Analyst. You name it, he could whine about it. His raise . . . others’ raises. His promotion . . . others’ promotion. And one of the most maddening side effects of whining is that it gets everyone else stirred up (in fact, I think whiners try to “recruit” sympathizers for their whining). After ongoing attempt to mitigate this using literally every response you spell out in your post, my premier whiner managed to get himself into a frenzy over a perceived dress code violation (yep, a dress code violation). And he had two of his favorite “followers” in a conference room lobbying them for support.
I did something I had never done before or since as a manager. I politely knocked on the door, confirmed what their conversation was about; then slammed my open palm on the table and asked them in a controlled-but-angry voice: “Just exactly what do you think you are accomplishing by your actions? What is the outcome you are seeking by getting people stirred up?” The response was an apology.
This person still has whiney moments, as we all do; but none have ever risen to that level again. And our working relationship is better, closer, more collaborative & consultative than I ever could have imagined when I first became his Lead.
I don’t advocate anger or threats as a standard go-to management style or leadership technique — they are anathema to me. I do believe there can be rare times, though, when an extreme approach — used with forethought and control — can be effective.
I think this is great.. and maybe a teaching tool that should be created for those who struggle with this…
I had someone tell me recently that venting is the adults version of whining. I honestly think how someone perceives the information and who it is delivered to defines the title. Sue can complain that Bob talks rudely to her, or Sue can vent to Jane that she is not sure why Bob talks rudely to her ,and Sue can also complain to a person of authority that Bob talks rudely to her.
Do you think that sometimes the person perceiving the message titles it ,and can also keep it from being handled in the manner in which it should be?
Thanks everyone for the insight! I have inherited a dysfunctional team, who are a bunch of whiners – we call them, whingers in Australia! Ones been in the job for ages, and “knows everything”, one is always whinging that her talents are not being utilized – yet when given opportunities to display and utilize her talents, she makes excuses why it can’t happen! Another always has a family drama and has to drop everything and go off and solve her family problems and then will not turn up to morning briefings and complains that she doesn’t know what’s going on and that there is no team spirit – then in the next breath she say she can’t stand to be in the same room as the others and avoids them all!? Another is a control freak and a panic merchant, everything is a drama, she’s hot then cold, best mate and do anything you want, or shuts off and you can’t get a word out of her!
I personally have a good relationship with each of them and can talk to each of them but as a group! My goodness! It’s crazy!!
Sorry, I needed to vent, whine, whinge!
Thanks again for your all insights, love this blog, gives me inspiration that there is hope, and love the good humor that goes with your thoughts and suggestions!